FAIRBANKS — Members of the Alaska House of Representatives' Sustainable Education Task Force had a heated argument about the group's fundamental conclusion Tuesday as the task force prepared its final recommendations before the upcoming legislative session Jan. 21.
The task force, created by House resolution in April and comprised of three legislators and five community members, is scheduled to present recommendations to create sustainable education funding to the Legislature later this month.
The majority of the task force members expressed the sentiment that while the state could be doing a better job educating students, the Legislature could not afford in future years to fund education even at current levels. While the base student allocation appropriated to school districts has remained stagnant the last four years, the Legislature has continued to increase one-time funding outside the formula each year, according to Rep. Lynn Gattis, R-Wasilla.
"It should be understood that overall state education funding needs to be reduced," said task force member Brad Keithley. "I think one of the big things for this task force is we've seen the high water mark for spending, we're coming back to things that are realistic."
While most other members seemed to agree with Keithley's statement, another board member, Anchorage Chamber of Commerce President and former state legislator Andrew Halcro, strongly challenged that perspective.
"I would adamantly disagree with Mr. Keithley," Halcro said. "You can't go into this saying 'I don't care what it is, we need to cut education funding.' I don't think that's beneficial to the future of this state, and I think it does nothing for the future if we do it that way."
The passionate argument, which culminated several minutes later when Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, told the group forcefully "we're all going to calm down," originated when the task force began discussing the use of the line "the public shall be made aware that current education spending is not sustainable."
Halcro argued with the other members that the task force had not done nearly enough work in the four months since convening to confidently make such a strong claim. He went as far as to say previous discussion by the task force regarding the sustainability of funding had not been "very open and honest."
The lone opposing voice, Halcro forced a roll-call vote on the line, but was voted down 7-1.
Contact staff writer Weston Morrow at 459-7520. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMschools.